So gov.uk is now live…

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Stating the obvious and in case you didn’t know GOV.UK is now live.

Congratulations to all those who got it this far  – a big thumbs up:)

thumbs up
I could leave it there, it has been a long time coming and now it is live, I’m sure many people can sit back for at least a second or two to acknowledge the huge first task they have completed, but I suspect the scale of the task ahead is focusing the minds.

Mike Bracken explains in a post why GOV.UK matters, it’s focusing on user needs, its faster, clearer and is now a platform – all this stuff is really important. But the most important thing that Mike does say is this:

Our upcoming Government Digital Strategy will address the urgent need to redesign our mainstream transactions.

I wouldn’t for a minute under state the task that has been completed and the scale on which it has been completed. It has certainly provided a number of great resources via the GDS blog which my council and my team have benefited from and as Mike explains it is already improving the experience for users…

This morning however it appears that I may have offended or at least annoyed a few people by tweeting:

Now if you believe “veneer” to be a negative word then this would naturally offend people, however I don’t think veneer is a negative word, I personally believe it is a positive component of redesigning services and is an often understated tactic.  It has its downfalls and challenges but it is a valuable approach

In Devon we often employ the veneer tactic to help people understand how things can look, how language can be used to improve the usability and how it can help users engage better – we have now started using that tactic in a more open way by employing a beta environment and sharing our thinking about how we build stuff – similar to how GDS approached their early stages –  instead of an old approach which was to simply use pictures to inspire.  It took some hard work to get to this point here for us.

Our content strategy reinforces this approach by explicitly saying that we will focus on content and design, experiment in open and share our thinking and refresh our infrastructure. We have a separate strategy for applications and how we will tackle and improve the overall transactional experience as this is a longer term game for us but it is an important part of shifting our whole web estate to be user focused.

It is much, much harder dealing with applications and transactions and I don’t want to for a second suggest that GOV.UK is a failure – it is completely the opposite, it is a success, but not for the release today.  In my view the biggest contribution to public sector digital, is the “permission” that sharing your thinking, sharing your code, exploring ideas and asking users in a very open environment can work and does work.

My only remaining question is where will the beta environment live now – the continuation of the testing in public, the sharing of ideas, the continuing tweaking and updating, which needs to be sanity checked before a live release.

GOV.UK used to be the beta, but it is now mainstream…so will we see beta.gov.uk (as of today there is no site at this address)

4 thoughts on “So gov.uk is now live…

  1. Sophie Dennis

    (forgive typos: written on an itty-bitty phone)

    I think “veneer” is a poor word to describe the massive content task the GDS team have undertaken, and the complete reworking of the technical infrastructure which underpins the new site. Veneer suggests a mere surface re-rendering without significant structural change. New clothes on the old direct.gov and businesslink body. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    I have vast admiration for how the GDS team have approached this. It is an exemplar for a true content first approach, which has placed great, useful, usable content at the project’s core, and demanded that the design serve the content, not the other way around. The content challenge itself was vast. If we describe such work as a “veneer” we risk suggesting to others that it is quick, cheap or easy to do. Which as you know, it certainly isn’t.

    Layer is a much better word here than veneer. What we are have here is a new content layer (the ‘surface’ if you like) and a new, deep backend layer. This provides the platform for transformation of the intermediate “application” layer, but that can’t exist or be built before the deep infrastructure work is done. Naturally the infrastructure layer is not apparent to users – nor should it be – but that doesn’t mean there has not been as signficiant a transformation there as there has been of the surface content.

  2. I too have used the word veneer in this context without meaning it pejoratively – http://publicstrategist.com/2012/10/the-cgsw-is-dead-long-live-the-cgsw/ – but I think your post and the comments reveal that it can be understood in two very different ways.

    The first is from an essentially technical perspective. Is gov.uk a veneer in the way that, say, reskinning Directgov would be a veneer? Absolutely not: it is a complete deep structural change to how the centrarl government single website works – though still a front end layer. But whether it’s called a veneer or a layer doesn’t change this essentially technology based view.

    The second is from a government structure and services perspective. Does gov.uk deliver deep integration of government, its transactions and its data and provide a genuinely seamless service for users across the full range of their needs? No, it doesn’t do any of that: it’s a thin integration layer – a veneer – which does a better job of masking some of the underlying structure, but doesn’t change it.

    So what we have today is triumphant progress on the first and greater clarity about how much there is still to do on the second – as Mike Bracken’s own post makes very clear.

    The GDS team has done a great job on the first, including putting in some of the foundations which may help progress on the second. But beneath that veneer, government is not so very different today from the way it was yesterday.

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