Question 2: Who should do what?

What should Central Government do itself – e.g. in terms of content, applications and standards – and what would be better done by the wider public sector, businesses, charities and users?

23 Responses to Question 2: Who should do what?

  1. cyberdoyle says:

    Central Government should concentrate on removing the barriers to internet access. Once we all have the opportunity to get online easily then people will embrace the digital age. Currently only the early adopters, people living near exchanges or people with access to geeks are fully utilising the internet. Half the country can’t get a decent connection due to line length or cheap ISPs who don’t offer a good service. What we need is a good infrastructure, a fat pipe supplying whatever people want and need. This can only happen through fibre, but the telcos with their £90billion pension deficit are milking the obsolete copper. Government is failing to realise the physics. It is also failing to address the issue of Valuation tax, which is a relic from the windows tax of Elizabethan times.
    The conservatives said before the election that they would look at this tax, but now they are elected they aren’t doing, and it is never going to make them any money because communities can’t afford to pay it so like in the old days the windows will be boarded up. It is far better to remove the tax, enable people to build the infrastructure this country needs and then tax the harvest. Time to wake up and move on, instead of holding to an obsolete technology and expect it to deliver next gen access.
    Only when everyone has a good fast connection can government expect people to use the content they want to deliver. Standards are self regulating if you listen to the users, and the wider public sector will soon start to add content once the people can connect with it. until then we are in a stalemate situation. Without the waterpipes people can’t wash. Without a decent connection people can’t connect.

  2. John Rudkin says:

    There is a danger that all information comes from the top. Imagine the world where all decisions and knowledge stem from London. Whoops, it already does in a way!
    LOcal Information for local people should be the norm, around which debate and discussion can be attracted. Some councils do this now, and of course there are always the crackpots. I have some experience in this area, in the creation of local public portals where the “dangers” of being open were reflected on and I was reminded again and again that one day there would be a problem. Its like to nay sayers in the Macs vs PCs debate who say that “one day there will be a virus”. But that hasn’t happened, and if it does, we can be assurred the impact will be controlled. So it is with information from the public. We just need to keep our eyes open.

    All parties listed need to get around the table and agree to pool their expertise – and when I say expertise – it comes from being part of the public, experiencing and playing a part. I am not saying that one should listen to the “I thinks…” but that the reality of what is happening must preside.

  3. Central government should set standards to ensure the widest possible access and provide their own content in compliance with those standards. The rest should be done by others to ensure the maximum innovation around those standards.

    For example websites should be HTML4 compliant, downloadable documents provided in PDF (ISO/IEC 32000-1:2008) and/or ODF (ISO/IEC 26300:2006 or its successor OASIS ODF v1.2), audio in MP3 and Ogg formats, video in WebM format, and the content be or provide alternatives that satisfies WCAG AA rating for accessibility.

    The above example provides the widest access for the greatest number of people at the lowest cost to them and if the content providers choose their technology sensibly (should) result in no additional costs to them to comply with. This is generally true with good standards, although it does require the standards to be selected with a degree of awareness of what makes a good standard!

  4. Barry Norton says:

    As I said in response to Question 4 (trends):

    Government should expose Linked Data and APIs for services and let the community be involved in delivering different interfaces for different communities, rather than chasing their tails trying to make ‘one size fits all’ apps.

  5. Barry Norton says:

    Chris, but any old HTML4, but XHTML please (with RDFa annotations)

  6. john culkin says:

    I think Govt needs to take much a much stronger lead in joining up the provision of online information. If an organisation takes out a or domain, they should be given a list of “must do’s” as a condition of operating that domain. Without this, the outcomes of this review will be very hard to implement, no mater how sensible they are.

    The must do list should primarily be about content. It could include some standard contentelements that all sites need to include (eg an explanaiton of who the site is for and how it relates to the megasites), but should also vary in relation to the particular sector. EG Local councils should have to syndicate content about ouncil tax from directgov, hospitals should have to syndicate content about health from NSH Choices. It wouldn’t need to be overly prescriptive, but if done well, it could help create a much more streamlined online environment for users of government services.

    • Richard Jones says:

      Yes, the lead and standards must come from the centre since much of our interaction with government results from obligations set by government, e.g. council tax, income tax, car tax, prescription charges and exemptions, but also welfare, disability allowances, and additional linked benefits, ( for example it can relate back to council tax), etc.
      However there are many weak areas, e,g government departments which create multi-page PDF documents that must be completed in one shot, no saving, so no checking and with pages of complex financial data required, (yes I have the office of the public gurdian in mind).
      First the government must ensure that the site works with ‘normal’ desk based systems, preferably with a wide range of operating systems. Mobile devices are a smaller niche, and data for them is likely to be a smaller subset of the whole, few want to do a tax return or an annual report while mobile.
      Where complex data and references are involved an ability to obtain printouts of detail subsets with an overall high level view of the analysis tree should be standardised, in some cases this may well align with the site map(s). e.g. obtaining probate is a standard process, but parts may be specific, e.g. where to get certificates, telephone numbers, addresses, etc.

  7. I refer to my comments on Question 1:
    Government should concentrate on the management of data and the validation of information. How much of what is produced is out of date??
    Government could provide a framework for delivery of information, alongside mechanisms delivered by the general public, and other organisations.

  8. I think this question cuts to the heart of what the coalition is all about. It’s OK saying that Govt should do less and let others take the strain, but what if orgs don’t have the skills or there’s no one around to do the job? You end up with a postcode lottery of services and content.

    Govt can’t abdicate its responsibilities here. Surely it’s not beyond the Cabinet Office to secure an easy to use CMS that doesn’t cost the earth that delivers decent design, easy to read content and easy to follow transactions? Then find local editors (in the way that is trying to do in the States with news) to bolster local provision.

    At the same time you need to take a long hard look at procurement and the deliverables. Paying way over the odds while tying yourself up in knots with process and change requests doesn’t strike me as particularly sensible procurement. Likewise, pages of flowcharts describing the process of getting content online may get a programme manager’s juices flowing but it’s not a deliverable a Directgov user would appreciate.

  9. Michael King says:

    Not sure if this is relevant in here but I think government needs to look for information siloes (not just within government) and find ways to free them.

    One that is close to my interests is access to academic literature. Unless you have an ATHENS account the academic journals are generally only available to academics or at a price. There are obviously commercial implications to these things, but something such as this is knowledge for the greater good………

  10. Ian Tresman says:

    Central Government should not be the gatekeeper, but a facilitator. The government works for us. It could start by abolishing Crown Copyright, and giving citizens free access to data that they paid for! That’s how it works in the USA.

  11. rex_Imperator says:

    The whole point of html when it was written was a commion standard for the production and distribution of information. A common set of standards, with data populated locally. Common output formats and data analyses. A framework, not an outcome.

    Why is each public sector body thinking for itself how to make available all items of spending over £500? Why isn’t there a central format which would make comparisons between bodies easier? How much are we wasting with East Borsetshire devising its own scheme, and West Borsetshire doing the same thing at the same time?

  12. I think that Central Government should concentrate on making sure that every location in Britain has a broadband capability. At the moment far too many areas of the country, even in Oxfordshire, only have poor bandwidth via dial-up, there is little point making high bandwidth services available if half the people cannot use them.
    Specialist agencies do a great job collating information regarding their area of specialism, however, publication of the content can be patchy or unintuitive, often relying on techniques that make the information NOT accessible. Central Government has a strong role to play here via the Direct.Gov web site, making sure that content delivery is consistent across all agencies.
    As I personally know quite a number of people who have no interest in the Internet or PC’s, I feel the strategy for Digital Britain may be ill conceived. These people are not disenfranchised benefits claimants, they have their own homes and some even run businesses, but they do not foresee changing what is already working well for them. They are aware that there is a massive overhead in cost, time and effort to engage with IT, and as such this would not improve their business or personal life, but would present them with an very unwanted distraction.
    I also know many people who are homeless, or living in premises on short term tenancy agreements, in private rented accommodation. Quite apart from any costs involved, there is no incentive to engage in a 12 months contract for supply of broadband, these people rarely have a fixed telephone line for the same reason.
    Charities and community organisations can help out here and need to be given access to more funds to allow them to provide facilities and training required when none IT people turn up with a specific issue that can be resolved via ICT.
    The biggest put off for most people is the cost of fixing a device that has broken either through misuse or become infected with malware, especially as these are already very common occurances which are becoming more and more prevalent every day. With little sign of things being under overall control, other than by hackers and criminals.
    PS the police are unprepared to deal with domestic hacking, social engineering scams, the sale of “fake” goods, identity theft and malicious impersonation, all currently being conducted with great ease via the internet.
    Central Government has a responsibility to bring the Police etc, up to speed with the rest of society before pushing the technology down people’s throats, especially the poor who are incapable of recovering from such devastating intrusions into their private lives.

  13. Antony Watts says:

    The whole government ‘thing’ that is offered to me must be consistent in presentation and approach, it must me ‘me’ focused. All departments or organisations that have anything to offer me must do so in a uniform manner, just like the product offerings of a well run company.

  14. The government can be at the forefront of setting standards for information. If you want web services (any services, really) to be truly useful to people, they have to be relevant. For example, ‘local’ elements from places like upmystreet, theyworkforyou, fixmystreet could all combine into a great service for you. If you can enable councils to give you useful information in a standardised way, you can create a place for people to go that is relevant to them. Bins, recyclcing, streets, social services, jobs, everything could be standardised using postcode data. Enable business services to do the same thing, also standardised, and you give people access to local grants, recommended builders, etc.

    Another important source of data is the people using your services. You need to find out who they are, and allow them to change their preferences too. If they declare their interests frequently, you’ll be able to shape directgov around them, become intuitive, responsive, and proactive about their needs.

    In summary, central government doesn’t have to collect all the necessary information itself, but it should set recognisable standards that everyone who contributes can agree to, and stick to, otherwise the data will rapidly become unusable.

  15. Marc Le Clercq says:

    1. the country is committed to install broadband nationwide 2. One government page, one citizen log-in. 3. I can customise my page to include health, dvla, local authority page, tax payment facilities, languages, large type for half-blind, mobile version, ‘young’ version for kids etc etc 4. gov web centres are set up to support and introduce support for ‘excluded’ members of society to train them up (sainsbury’s staff help people get used to ‘self-checkout’ – same approach applies surely). Aim big and be clever and lead the way. I would be happy for my taxes to be channelled in this direction.

  16. Government is generally rubbish at doing anything technical: it is expensive, inflexible and often wrong. It should do only what it must, and focus on getting out of the way for the rest.

    The notion of centralised log-ins is a terrifyingly large basket with all our eggs in it. The idea that it can do search better than Google is laughable.

  17. Central government should focus on the nuts and bolts of internal data infrastructure and access control, delivering clean APIs for use by whomever. Start with public data, and once that’s working well it will be time to look at private data, transactions etc with all the excitement over authentication and security that entails.

    Add on some bare bones presentation, just so there’s somewhere for reference.

    Then, engage the wider community. Make the access sufficiently broad and deep, and believe me, the enthusiasm and creativity that will be engaged will be beyond your dreams.

    Oh, and while you’re at it, recognise that some information doesn’t fit so well – because it’s driven by an occasion, a person, whatever. Set some guidelines about how procurement is to be done, and a budget ceiling of £500 per site. Add a thin skin of monitoring to spot sites that have gone moribund and prune them and to make sure there’s a standard way of checking a site’s credentials. Stand well back. Of course, not everything will squeeze into those shoes, but almost everything will – and at the moment the total cost to the taxpayer of assessing new web requests is well over £500 per occasion.

  18. Paul Nash says:

    I would imagine that the majority of people don’t care where the service is coming from unless it is very specific data they are after or a very specific point that they want to make so a whole of Central Government view should be the norm.

  19. Chris Webster says:

    Directgov has a pivotal role to act as the single point of access for the citizen for all public services. This does not mean that it will deliver these services; that is the role of the large central government departments and local authorities combined. However without the citizen centric, cross departmental thinking that Directgov brings, these departments and authorities are doomed to solve only the problem that they see.

    The critical capabilities that Directgov should provide include a single point of access to all government information and services including a single sign-on capability; MyGov can be a reality. There will thus need to be a single central set of services which can connect into services provided by the departments and local authorities and this should be within Directgov.

    Directgov’s other key role will be to work with the departments and local authorities to get them to adopt digital delivery (these skills are rare and in high demand in the private sector). They will need to be a change agent challenging the other parties to think in very different ways to accelerate the channel shift securing the savings that the country needs right now.

    By doing all these things, Directgov will then provide a single trusted source of information and services to the citizen. This will become increasingly important as other sites crop up offering to provide similar services but charging the citizen for services that should be free. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a role for the private sector but only where they truly add value to the citizen.

  20. Directgov must above all else be authoritative and trusted. It provides a government imprimatur for the transactions that it supports and the information it provides. If it lose that as a result of third party involvement then it becomes essentially useless and moves in that direction are irresponsible. Transactions such as filling in a tax return should be completely free of any third party involvement and advertising. Organisations working on the site and providing direct support to users referred to as part of the site such as embedded online help systems and referenced call centres must essentially be “government”.

    However, assuming they are required (this is the “access channel to wider content” that we mention above), lists of places (mainly websites) where users can go for further advice and services should be included. This is where charities, those that offer charged services and other possible links (other Governments etc.) come in. There should be mechanisms for proposal and establishment of links. But these links should always make clear on the site, to all including those using assistive technology and/or with sensory impairement, that they are links to content or services that are outside the jurisdiction of government.

    The above is a “logic” formulation. In practice government will appoint agents to do some or all of the production, maintenance and support tasks. But they should work entirely within the imprimatur.