‘Selling’ gov.uk

Do civil servants need to be good at selling things?

Traditionally a civil servant provides advice and recommendations, which I suppose are a form of 'sell', by way of a carefully crafted submission. Internal comms team might be expected to promote values and ways of working, and policy teams may wish to raise the profile of their work with colleagues.

What about other changes within Government organisations? I am, of course, thinking about a single website for Government.

gov.uk is all about users. It needs to work for them, not for civil servants.

But for the project to really fly, it needs civil servants to come with it. The people who will continue to make policy and deliver information. For those people who have been comfortable with a fairly direct write-and-publish model, largely unchallenged, the idea that there will be a new way of doing things isn't entirely comfortable. A bit like when organisations are told they have to hot desk. It's not a deal-breaker, but it is disruptive and a break from convention.

Some seem to like gov.uk just because it's new. Others aren't bothered either way. Some are cautious, but accepting. And for some the change brings uncertainty, which isn't comfortable.

How do you get colleagues on board?

The case for a single website is strong. But it still needs selling to bring people with it, and selling requires confidence. Confidence in the knowledge you have, and the product. Confidence that this is the *right* thing.

These talking points seem to work best, and enthuse colleagues about gov.uk:

  • Users first: no-one will tell you that they don't care about their audience. gov.uk is user focused so there's very little not to agree with here.
  • Evidence and best practice: the research has been done, the user testing is constant. Google is most people's starting point.
  • It's personal: talk about real examples of tools and services that are better in a gov.uk world. Think tax discs, red tape and crisis loans.
  • Everyone can be a part of it and provide feed back (but they need to look at it first, before commenting).
  • Reassure people that content won't just disappear from the web forever.
  • There's more to life than websites. We need to break the old fashioned 'write once, publish once' model. Where should we be telling people about this policy/service/consultation? There's a whole world of digital opportunity out there, to help us meet the needs of our audiences. Websites are only one part of that.

This may be too simplistic for some, but there's plenty more detail elsewhere for those who want it.

Do civil servants need to be good at selling things? If we want progress, then yes.


For once, I feel like a website customer

gov.uk home pageFrom today, you will now be able to find advice and guidance about starting and running a business on the new single Government website.

I’ve worked in and around digital for some years now, but rarely do I feel like one of the users we are working for. I am often too close to the content, the delivery, or the aims.

When I’m not dabbling in digital for BIS, I am a company secretary for the property management business, in the block of flats where I live.

It was a bumpy road to setting up the limited company, and understanding all the things we have to do each year. There’s plenty of advice online, but it sure took some sorting out and judicious Googling.

The new business content on gov.uk looks like it would have saved me a lot of time and effort and probably given me more confidence too.

This latest iteration of the site also offers a bunch of user-friendly tools to help people like you and me book a driving test, or apply for student funding.

Take a look and tell them what you think.

Turning Government inside out

Inside Government landing page on gov uk

Inside Government is the latest addition to www.gov.uk, a website that is testing the future of how Government information and transactions will be delivered online.

As well as delivering transactions online; better and more efficiently, gov.uk also aims to consolidate existing Government websites. Anyone should be able to find out about policies and the working of Government, and get involved in consultations, without having to know which department is responsible for the areas they are interested in.

This is where Inside Government comes in. Anyone can visit this part of the Beta site and find out the latest news, policies and publications from a handful of early adopter departments. There is also basic information about every other Government department too.

The team at BIS have worked hard to ensure content about subjects such as trade, apprenticeships and science are part of this.

This is no copy and paste job. Content is added according to gov.uk principles about language.

For me, this is the biggest story behind the gov.uk project so far. Translating the cautious, corporate language of Government into clear English, and mapping content against a department’s business plan is, as far as I can tell, entirely new.

Colleagues at the Government Digital Service have described the approach as ‘shining a light’ on activities across Whitehall and, in my experience, the Beta is already producing a bright beam.

Take a look at the way policy content is broken down in to simple sections such as ‘issue’ ‘actions’ and, most importantly, ‘impact’, in simple language too.

Like the rest of gov.uk, Inside Government is putting users (taxpayers like you and me) first and approaching the task of presenting policy with refreshing simplicity.

This project is presenting some interesting challenges for managers like me, with teams who are already handling huge volumes of corporate content. There is also a certain amount of shock and head scratching among colleagues in other parts of the department, for whom their website may have been traditionally viewed as a basic publishing channel.

Gov.uk is far more than a website. It represents a fundamental shift in the way civil servants right across the public sector will think about the presentation of their work in the future.

Welcome gov.uk

Gov UK home pageFinally, the wraps are off the latest version of the new Government website. Yes, it’s a Beta and yes, it is far from complete in terms of design or content.

But, and forgive me for sounding so gushing, already it is a thing of wonder.

Not because of the technology, or even the tools it now offers (although I am reliably informed by a young mother and someone who plans Bank Holidays months in advance that these are good too).

The real win, as far as I am concerned, is that it demonstrates how websites in the public sector can be delivered: iteratively, efficiently and completely focussed on the audience.

Web teams in central Government and the NHS could learn an awful lot from this. The GDS blog is very transparent about their approach since day one.

I am very excited about the things the new website is not promising to deliver any time soon. The things that can’t demonstrate a need from the audience. Nor is the Government Digital Service going to try and sort out conflicts between different parts of Government, or overlaps in policy areas. As I’ve said before (inspired by GDS and @hmshale) these things are not for websites to solve.

Anyway, its easy for digital people to gush about projects from other digital people. The real test will be from those young mothers, car owners, bank holiday fanatics and people generally doing the things we all need to do online from time to time.

Anyone can feed back and I urge you to do so: https://www.gov.uk/feedback

And don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the Financial Times has to say.