Late last year Martha Lane Fox published a raft of recommendations intended to revolutionise the UK Government’s online services. At the launch of her report (subtitled “revolution, not evolution”) she recommended the introduction of:
“a service culture, putting the needs of citizens ahead of those of departments”
She also made a strong case for the UK Government to adopt a single web domain, analogous to the BBC’s use of BBC.co.uk, and recommended a radical change in how gov.uk sites are produced:
“Government should take advantage of the more open, agile and cheaper digital technologies to deliver simpler and more effective digital services to users.”
Alpha.gov.uk is a prototype, built in response to some of the challenges laid down in Martha’s report. It has two overarching objectives:
- To test, in public, a prototype of a new, single UK Government website.
- To design & build a UK Government website using open, agile, multi-disciplinary product development techniques and technologies, shaped by an obsession with meeting user needs.
The prototype, or ‘alpha’, in geek-speak, is far from complete. Indeed, it isn’t necessarily accurate or up to date – it is not intended to be an instant replacement for existing gov.uk sites. Nor does it improve the quality of government’s online transactions – others are working hard to make these easier to use.
What Alpha.gov.uk does do is trial a selection of new, simple, reusable tools aimed at meeting some of the most prevalent needs people have from government online. The aim is to gather feedback on these new approaches from real people early in the process of building a new single website for central government.
For example, every year a surprising number of people mislay their passport, and turn to the web for help. In this instance, the steps you need to take depend heavily on your precise circumstances. Was your passport lost or stolen? Are you in the UK? If so, where? If not, which country are you in?
The team has developed what is hopefully a simple solution to this surprisingly complex problem.
Alpha.gov.uk is trialing a range of such tools (guides, decision trees, answer pages, calculators etc.). It is very far from a comprehensive product. It includes about two hundred different tools, targeted at the most popular needs, where a final site would feature many thousands. The prototype also includes an early view of how each Government department could have its activities represented via a single government website, radically reducing cost and complexity.
The prototype will also test a new information architecture (IA) and a new open source-powered technology platform. It assumes people:
- Begin their journeys on a search engine (as the vast majority now do)
- Want to minimise the time they spend on a gov.uk site
- Do not understand anything about the structure of Government in the UK
Mirroring the new information architecture is a single government brand to replace the myriad of different department and agency logos. The aim is to keep things as simple as possible.
Notably, everything has been designed for the Internet, not just for the Web. In English, this means that all the tools and content can be easily shared (‘syndicated’) with non-Government sites, or quickly made suitable for other Internet platforms such as mobile or Internet TV.
Normally an ‘alpha’ would not be made public. A product team would normally open the doors for public feedback at a later, ‘beta’, phase in a site’s development. In this instance, we think it’s vital to get real feedback from real users on what is a relatively radical product approach before a huge amount of money and time have been spent.
But please find time to play with the prototype and send us your feedback via the “Tell us what you think” link in the top right of every page.