Alphagov fanboy turns Betagov infiltrator

From tomorrow, I’ll be joining Cabinet Office to help take the prototype forward to its next incarnation as a more fully developed public beta. In the spirit of the tagline of this blog, I’ll be splitting my time straight down the middle between my (awesomely generous and forward-thinking) employer BIS and the very different world of Tom Loosemore’s multi-disciplinary, agile and intimidatingly good GovUK team.

I’ll be leading the part of the Betagov project that deals with what becomes of central government departments’ websites in the single domain, including how all that content will get published and maintained in the really real world of busy, politically complex Whitehall departments. More than that I can’t say – mostly because I don’t yet know – but I promise to be as transparent and consultative as the timetable lets me be.

Meanwhile, I’d be interested in any answers to these questions about government’s corporate websites:

  1. What works well now which you most fear the single domain will break?
  2. What’s broken now that you most hope the single domain will fix?

Of my fellow gov webbies, I will also be asking:

  1. Who are your users and what do you now about why they come?
  2. What types of content do you publish and what are your various business reasons for publishing?

Any documents you can share like search and usage data, survey results, corporate website propositions or strategies would be most welcome.

It’s going to be fun, difficult and I’m going to need to call in a lot of favours. I can’t wait.

Shout if you want to help out.

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Thats great news – congrats. Sounds like it will be a really interesting project and good luck with the job-split that sounds pretty challenging just on its own!

I look forward to reading/hearing more about it (as long as you keep your mits off us little NDPBs!)

Best of luck! Very worthwhile enterprise. Some stuff that’s broken:

- DirectGov + other web platforms too expensive
- doesn’t draw on great work SMEs can offer at relatively low cost
- no convenient access/identity mechanism for trusted transactions
- hard to personalise in privacy-friendly way.

Since your aud varies in every imaginable way – from Sun readers to New Statesman, from yoot to octogenarian, from Lands End to wherever – any specific prescriptive preachey editorialising is bound to displease most of the ppl most of the time.

So more strength to your arm people. Get excited and make stuff…

Good luck in the new role … I think you’re just what the project needs. I’d be very pleased to help out in any way that I can, just ask!

I believe a focus on customers’ top tasks, identified through hard evidence gathering, needs to be a key priority. Each section of the site needs to be prioritised appropriately to meet the needs of the majority in order to maximise take-up.

Re: bringing in SMEs. Keep an eye out for enablers like this

Provide the infrastructure which enables lite-touch hooks such as this, or (god forbid) WP extensions – in one direction and the base data which drives most gov websites/apps in the other.

A great appointment from their perspective Neil; not sure about from yours! Holding down a proper job whilst reinventing the whole of online government, not to mention domestic responsibilities… I don’t envy you. But I guess it’s one of those offers you can’t refuse. And the pain will only last so long. :)

The representation of government departments was probably the weakest area of the alpha. A solution needs to be found which meets the underlying objectives of the alpha/betagov initiative, but doesn’t make it impossible for departments to do their job. And indeed, the basis of said solution is almost certainly an evolution of what you’ve done at BIS, and what we’re doing with Defra: namely, devolved responsibility within a centrally managed framework, and at modest-to-low cost.

Best of luck, mate. And in case it doesn’t go without saying: we’re here to help.

Pleased to hear this Neil.
As with all centrally-sponsored projects there is a certain amount of fuzziness about where local gov fits in to Alphagov …..give us a shout if you need any of our inputs. We’ve already sent in quite a lot of data from Socitm Better connected and Website takeup service.

Congrats Neil! What a great opportunity for you – and the team. I second Vicky’s comments about linkages with local gov services and would also be happy to input if I can be of any help.

Hi Neil
if we’re going to get UK government to think and act digitally we need to find a way of releasing the shackles so that people can be creative digitally at work. At the moment we all act digitally at home, but as soon as we get to work everything is so locked down we can’t express ourselves digitally where it’s actually needed most. A case in point is the fact that no-one in government can watch a video on YouTube. If Microsoft can build an internal ‘YouTube’ so staff can communicate digitally (via Flip cameras/Zoom sound recorders) why can’t UK govt do the same? We need not only digital by default, but easy digital – imagine someone saying, ‘government digital, it just works’ – now that would be music to my ears

Neil, Congratulations on your new role. My comments for you at this stage is:
- I fear that less high profile parts of government will risk getting lost and buried even further then presently.
- need to involve specialist users as early as possible in your thinking. You are welcome to present initial thinking to our Executive Board consisting of export professionals.
- single domain is useless and can actual hinder day to day work if the CMS is old fashioned and in flexible.

Happy to share web insight and background on how our web content is used and types of content published separately. Too little space here.

Neil, this is a really exciting project and there is scope for real improvements in the presentation of government on the web. My interest is in ensuring policy development and analysis is accessible as possible so hope this is looked at as well as the “transactional” side of government. Also, there are valuable lessons in old policy discussions, so please make sure archived consultations etc do not disappear. We’re big users of all government websites, so happy to help out.


[...] is very fortunate in having been loaned Neil Williams from the Department for Business to lead development of this aspect of the beta. He’s got a [...]

Hi Neil,

I work in the Communications department at a borough council, we are working on our social media strategy and want to make better use of our website to promote this.

How are you going to address the EU Cookie regulations? i keep hitting a wall as our IT guys keep quoting it as a reason not to keep developing our site(despite deferred for a year). Any help appreciated.

Paul, have you looked into Socitm Insight’s cookie directive offering. That could be just what you (and your IT guys) need.

Hi Neil I’m hoping Alphagov will solve the security problems of “username & password”. We think we can provide a solution that’s ready to go.

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