Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Government IT strategy - what's needed? Competition - contribute your views

IdealGov and the Centre for Technology Policy Research are running a competition to develop an ideal government IT strategy "which everyone wins. Everyone who contributes is invited to a party". Even better (or not, depending on your fondness for parties!), "The Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem Parties alike have all agreed to have the results presented and to consider them in the context of their own thinking around the development of more effective technology policies."

I can't see an exact end date for entries (typical lawyer, imprecision makes me nervous), but it runs for 6 weeks and as the blog was dated 18 Dec 2009 I'm guessing the deadline is close of business UK time on Friday 22 Jan 2010. There.

If interested, you can contribute to the wiki before the deadline, currently under the following headings (including data protection law issues):
- governance of public-sector IT
- technical architecture which supports the real-world intention
- procurement of technology and tech-based services
- design that works for front line staff and users
- basis for participative public services
- public data
- personal data
- trust, dignity & legality under human rights & DP law
- political engagement, openness and trust in the political process
- and above all saving vast, vast amounts of money

My view is, just get the basics right. Which seems to be a battle in itself judging by the example I give below.

With major plans like a (ID card, big whatever, fill in the blank here) for the whole of the (NHS, Home Office, country, fill in the blank here), start small. Make sure it's done in a scaleable way, so you can grow in manageable stages from there, but start with a small pilot in one office, hospital, location etc, and make sure that for all stages including planning you involve the people who are going to be using the tech day to day in real life, both government staff and the public. It's not rocket science.

If a tender sounds too good/cheap to be true, it probably is (lure 'em in with an enticing low quote then, oops, it'll take longer and cost a lot more now, but they don't want to back out or cut their losses do they, they'll feel they're stuck with it, and so they are).

Sometimes, losses just have to be cut, rather than keep throwing good money after bad. Consider some of the government IT projects that we've been lumbered with - if someone had tried to initiate or run a project like that in a business environment, they'd have been fired or the project would have been canned very early on. I don't know if part of the problem is the "other people's money" (i.e. taxpayers') syndrome. And I don't think I'm alone in thinking that those who've benefited the most from UK government technology projects have been, very clearly, IT consultants and IT companies - rather than the British public.

Anyway, to my example. Now the ICO have at least fixed the full-document download link issue with their new consultation responses system, good on them. But I was despondent to find some basic deficiencies with the Home Office's Press Office website just today:

  • The "More press releases" link at the bottom of the main Press Office page only takes you to a "Press release search" page, not a list of recent press releases.

  • All very well, but the Press release search doesn't work - try searching for anything, nothing happens. (The advanced search does work, at least). Before you ask, I did try several different browsers. I regularly use Firefox and Opera as well as Chrome and Internet Explorer.

  • The left menu link to Press Office RSS news feed goes to a page headed "What is RSS"? At the bottom of that page a "Subscribe" box gives the correct feed URL http://press.homeoffice.gov.uk/press-releases/pressreleases.xml in the link text, but when you click or rightclick the link itself, the link goes to the wrong address http://press.homeoffice.gov.uk/rss/index.html# - which is the URL of the same webpage, not the feed address! Check out the URL in the status bar in the screenshot below.

  • If you try subscribing to the feed, click on a news item (any one!), and you get this:

  • Hint - adding ".html" to the end of the URL makes it work, in some - but sadly not all - cases.

Yes, never mind fancy Web 2.0 stuff and trendy YouTube videos, just working government websites would be rather helpful to the public, for starters.

(Very small cough - the RSS link at the bottom of the page on the CTPR site is wrong too, though the one at the top is fine. It's probably me being a details merchant, again. But my point about the Home Office Press pages basic search and links from feed to individual items not working still holds!)

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